Leading in Times of Challenge with Elisabeth Buck
Elisabeth Buck has worked for United Way of Central Iowa since January of 2011. In 2017, she was promoted from her position as chief community impact officer to president. Buck will retire from the organization later this summer, in July 2021.
In January 2021, United Way of Central Iowa announced “United to Thrive,” which focuses on achieving impact on the Greater Des Moines (DSM) community in five areas, in order to create an equitable and thriving community. These five elements include: early childhood success, education success, economic opportunity and health and well-being and essential needs.
Elisabeth Buck Leadership Tips
Reflecting on her career, Buck says none of it was planned. She never thought she would end up leading a nonprofit, but as one door would close, she has been fortunate to find new opportunities. Crisis management skills came into play numerous times over the years. Working with former Governor Tom Vilsack, Buck says she learned to overcommunicate. During the recession, while working at Iowa Workforce Development, she realized the importance of community support systems, comfort and guidance when challenging times arise. Buck embraces her calm demeanor and leans into guiding principles and values that help lead her team through crises. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, she says this included protecting staff, advancing the company mission and supporting those hit hardest.
In the beginning of the pandemic, Buck added structure to chaos by holding daily leadership team meetings, some just 30 minutes, to keep communication open and make consensus decisions. Along with daily meetings, she implemented a weekly Friday email update, and United Way of Central Iowa became the COVID-19 hotline with 2-1-1, a lifeline for community members who needed to talk and get information on the pandemic. The facts around COVID-19 changed daily back in March 2020, and it was important that all staff had the most up-to-date information to relay to callers. On the fly, the organization had to pivot the call software so staff could answer calls from home. Buck asked employees who had interest in the opportunity to answer calls to take part in training. By asking staff to volunteer, the organization was equipped to be more productive and have less pushback. Then, in 2021, Buck says the organization was called up to be the 2-1-1 vaccine navigator as well, and utilized internal and external partnerships to make the most of the responsibility.
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The Leading in Times of Change podcast is brought to you by the Greater Des Moines Partnership and hosted by Mike Jefferson. The podcast features community leaders from across Greater Des Moines (DSM). To listen to more Partnership podcasts, click here.